Article by David Wylie, Penticton Herald
Cannabis has gone from illegal to essential in less than two years.
Following the example of Ontario, San Francisco and Los Angeles, the B.C. government on Thursday included cannabis companies on its list of essential services.
That means retailers and producers can keep their operations going amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.
Still, even as legal retailers celebrate the provincial government’s historic declaration, they worry that staffing shortages will become an issue.
BDS Analytics, which specializes in cannabis market and trends reports, surveyed retailers all over North America. They found store owners have a strong resolve to stay open, but are facing increasing staffing challenges.
For now, retailers have generally been able to cover the holes by assigning more hours to remaining staff or operating with fewer employees, said the firm’s vice-president of operations, Greg Shoenfeld.
“If the staffing becomes tighter, that will be a constraint,” he added. “To the best of their ability, they are planning to stay open.”
Nearly 60% of retailers said they have so far experienced staffing constraints. This number continues to increase.
Okanagan retailers have said staff members who are at higher risk of falling severely ill from coronavirus or who fear passing it along to family members are already staying home. Some stores have been forced to close their doors.
For the lucky ones that have been able to remain open, sales are unprecedented as people stock up.
Shoenfeld said retailers have seen “tremendous, tremendous sales. Some characterized it as being as (busy), or busier, than 4/20.”
Good old-fashioned bud is the product of choice right now, especially in large formats, like ounces.
“By and large, the most common product category that retailers are indicating is moving fast is flower, some particularly called out CBD-heavy flower as going first,” he said.
Edibles are also proving highly popular.
BDS co-founder and CEO Roy Bingham noted cannabis consumption is clearly on the increase.
“They’re anxious about the future, they’re going to be spending a lot of time being home alone,” he said. “You can’t go to the gym, or do other things you might do to relax.”
Stores that continue to operate have to follow strict physical distancing orders and direction from B.C.’s provincial health officer.
Local retailers have been adopting extra measures, including increased sanitization and social distancing.
“We continue to offer amazing service to our customers, just at a distance,” said Spiritleaf Vernon owner/operator Sarah Ballantyne. “Our staff are healthy, and are taking the necessary precautions to ensure social distancing measures.”